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ClassicsOnline Home » POWELL, Maud: Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1904-1917)
Liner Notes for Maud Powell, Volume 2
Maud Powell (1867-1920)
Victor Red Seal Recordings 1904-1917 Vol. 2
Maud Powell was born on 22nd August 1867, in Peru, Illinois, on Americas western frontier. Her grandparents were Methodist missionaries in Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois before the Civil War. Her father William Bramwell Powell (1836-1904) was an innovative educator, who won a national reputation as superintendent of public schools in Peru, then Aurora, Illinois, and finally in Washington, D.C. Her mother Minnie Paul (1843-1925) was an accomplished pianist and gifted amateur composer. She and Mauds aunts were active in the woman suffrage movement. Her uncle John Wesley Powell, Civil War hero and explorer of the Grand Canyon, organized the scientific study of the western lands and of the native American Indians as the powerful director of the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Ethnology and founder of the National Geographic Society.
A prodigy, Maud Powell began her study of the violin at the age of seven in Aurora, then studied four years with William Lewis in Chicago. She completed her training with the great masters Henry Schradieck in Leipzig, Charles Dancla in Paris and Joseph Joachim in Berlin. She made her New York début when she was eighteen, performing Max Bruchs Violin Concerto in G minor with America's foremost conductor Theodore Thomas and the New York Philharmonic on 14th November, 1885. The intelligence, energy, and vigour in her playing reflected her American spirit and the brilliance, optimism and enthusiasm with which she lived. Powell performed with all the great European and American conductors and orchestras of her day, knew nearly every contemporary European and American composer personally and their music, and received international acclaim as one of the greatest artists of her time as she toured from St Petersburg in Russia to South Africa and to Hawaii.
Although Powell died of a heart attack while on tour on 8th January, 1920, at the early age of 52, during her short lifetime, she transformed the art of violin playing and set a new standard for performance. A legendary figure, her influence was pivotal in the development of classical music in North America. Through her devotion to her violin, her art, and humanity, she became Americas first great master of the violin, winning the love and admiration of all who fell under the spell of her commanding bow and magnetic personality.
In todays rich classical music climate, it is easy to forget the struggles faced by the advocates for classical music in North America around the turn of the twentieth century. Powell once spoke of the backward musical conditions she faced while touring in the South. The distinguished artist was informed that she had been the second great musical attraction that year. The previous one had been an "Italian orchestra." Powell related: "I learned that the Italian orchestra consisted of three young men with a harp, a sort of mandolin and a banjo!"
It could not have been easy for an artist of Powells calibre to face such ignorance, but it was not the first time, nor the last. The child prodigy had endured the ridicule of young boys who mocked her as she walked along the streets of Aurora and Chicago with her violin case. Later, when she returned from her studies abroad, she missed the European culture she had come to know. Yet she would not turn her back on the land of her birth. She reflected: "I kept on, simply because of the something within that drove me on. I had the real artists yearning for self-expression." Her deep inner attraction to the violin and its music kept her centred and focused on her ultimate mission -- to awaken her fellow Americans to the joy and spiritual riches of classical music.
It was a challenge faced by very few, who included in their number the violinist Camilla Urso (1842-1902) and the conductor Theodore Thomas (1835-1905). The extensive tours of the North American continent by these musicians inspired the formation of classical music institutions. There were only five professional orchestras in the United States when Maud Powell made her début in 1885. Theodore Thomas conducted three orchestras, the New York Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic and Theodore Thomas Orchestra with which he toured nearly every year. The New York Symphony, conducted by Walter Damrosch, and the Boston Symphony, conducted by Wilhelm Gericke were the other two. There were only two professional artist managers in New York, no concert circuits had been established to enable organized touring in the States, and legitimate concert halls were a rarity. Carnegie Hall was not built until 1891.
Maud Powell boldly took up the challenge that had fallen to her--to create audiences for classical music and encourage musical endeavour at all levels. Her appearance onstage from 1885 onwards gave Americans their first opportunity to hear regularly a violinist of the first rank. With her incandescent mind and luminous bow, Powell inspired people across the nation to form orchestras, to host recital series, to engage in chamber music and to teach their youngsters to play musical instruments.
Powells example and forceful leading guided their efforts. She blazed new concert circuits throughout the continent and gained acceptance for purely instrumental recitals at a time when variety shows were thought the only entertainment capable of sustaining an audience. She daringly toured "off the beaten track" with her quartet (1894-95) and later, her trio (1908-09), bringing solid chamber music programmes to people who had never heard such music before. Reluctant attenders at concerts, converted by her enchanting playing and clever programming, were transformed into avid concert-goers and music enthusiasts. She gave womens music clubs the support they needed to bring artists of her level to their communities. Even in New York, audiences were made up largely of women and most cultural efforts were spearheaded by women who were struggling mightily to raise the general public to a respectable level of "culture." When they took a chance and engaged Powell to come to their communities to play a recital or to perform with a newly formed orchestra, she did not disappoint them. She broke the ice for the organizers and made a success of their efforts. Other artists followed, meeting warmer and warmer receptions as Powell returned again and again to woo and win larger and larger audiences for high calibre performances of classical music.
"When I go before them, I play as though that were the one concert of my life," Powell once reflected. "I never play down to the public taste. The moment you play down to an audience, they sense it and do not like it." She included concertos and sonatas in her recitals and only later in the programme did she play dazzling technical display pieces and the smaller works that tugged at her audiences heartstrings.
In 1920, the violinist and music journalist Edith Winn wrote: "I have never known Maud Powell to cheapen her art, nor to play badly. She played in her concerts in the South and West the same programs as in New York and Boston. The public did not know her by a few miniatures, some little gems good enough in themselves, but misleading to students who realize little concerning the great amount of solid material to be studied. She had a large and varied repertoire, constantly changing, as it were. She played in Oklahoma as in New York--the great literature of the violin. That was to her a mission. And thousands heard her...."
When Powell began her mission, music was heard live or not at all. By 1915, she was delighted to discover that her recordings, first made in 1904, had acquainted even more people with classical music and complemented her efforts to draw them into the concert hall: "I find a great and growing interest in music all over the country....[T]he music recording and producing machines are making the public acquainted with a high class of compositions through the best obtainable artists. The artists of twenty years ago felt that most of their auditors were strangers to the player and to the composition; now the most of them have your work and your composition in their own homes and woe be to you if you dont live up to your recorded reputation."
In this second volume of Powells recordings, we have a sampling of the recorded reputation Maud Powell faithfully lived up to in her musical pioneer work throughout the continent. As we listen and are drawn in by the communicative power of her playing, we can understand why John C. Freund, editor of Musical America, saluted her in 1918 as "One of the Most Powerful Forces for Musical Advancement in America."
In 1916, the Victor Talking Machine Company released Maud Powells recordings of Schumanns Träumerei (the 1910 recording is represented here), Wieniawskis Capriccio Valse and the 'Romance' from Wieniawskis second violin concerto, all of which are featured in this compilation. Victors advertisement announcing these releases capitalized on Maud Powells reputation by quoting "so eminent a musical authority" as Henry T. Finck: "When Maud Powell plays, one thinks not of bowing and fingering, of staccato or legato, of harmonics or double-stops, of trills--though they be, as hers are, Melba-like in their perfection; one thinks only of the music. Like a great actor, she makes one forget the player in the art."
Thanks to these recordings, we will never forget this great violin player and her contributions to her art.
Karen A. Shaffer
Maud Powell: Victor Red Seal Recordings 1904-1917, Vol. 2
Track 1: Bach: Sonata No. 3 In E major: Mvt. II Allegro: 6 June 1916
Track 2: Bach: Sonata No. 3 In E major: Mvt.IV Allegro: 6 June 1916
Track 3: Handel: Xerxes: Largo: 28 October 1911
Track 4: Mozart: Divertimento No. 17 in D major, K.334: Minuet: 19 May 1909
Track 5: Boccherini-Powell: Quintet in E, Op. 13, No. 5: Tempo di Menuetto: 19 May 1909
Track 6: Martini-Powell: Plaisir damour: 5 June 1916
Track 7: Vieuxtemps: Bouquet Americain, Op. 33: St. Patricks Day: 20 May 1901
Track 8: Viuextemps: polonaise, Op. 38: 20 May 1909
Track 9: Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22: Second Movement: Romance: 6 June 1916
Track 10: Wieniawski: Capriccio Valse, Op. 7: 6 June 1916
Track 11: Schubert: Ave Maria: 27 May 1910
Track 12: Schubert: Rosamunde, Op. 26: Entracte III, in B flat: 18 June 1915
Track 13: Raff: Cavatina, Op. 85 No. 3: 27 December 1911
Track 14: Zarzycki: Mazurka, Op. 26: 20 May 1909
Track 15: Schumann: Kinderscenen, Op. 15: Traumerei: 27 May 1910
Track 16: Grieg-Marcosson: To Spring: 15 June 1911
Track 17: Leybach: Fifth Nocturne, Op. 52: 6 June 1917
Track 18: Offenbach: les Contes dHoffmann: Barcarolle: 2 June 1914
Track 19: Ogarew: Caprice, Op. 51, No. 2: 27 September 1912
Track 20: Chopin-MacMillen: The Maidens Wish: 7 June 1917
Track 21: Massenet: Les Erinnyes: No. 3, Invocation (Elegie): 7 June 1917
Track 22: Poldini-Hartmann: Poupee-Valsante: 7 June 1917
Track 23: Cadman: Little Firefly: 7 June 1917
Artists: Maud Powell, violin, with:Tracks 1,2,9, 10: Arthur Loesser, piano
Track 3: Waldemar Liachowsky, piano
Tracks 4,5,7,8,11-16,19-23: George Falkenstein, piano
Track 17: Francis J. Lapitano, harp, with orchestra, Josef A. Pasternack, conductor
Track 18: Francis J. Lapitano, harp and George Falkenstein, piano
Provenance: Studio recordings, made between 1909 and 1917
Musical Period: Various
Musical Genre: Violin music
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